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A man awakens from a coma, only to discover that someone has taken on his identity and that no one, (not even his wife), believes him. With the help of a young woman, he sets out to prove who he is.
Release Date: 18 February 2011
Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) seems to have it all; a beautiful wife (January Jones), a stimulating career and wealth along with it to make him worldly and wise. To paraphrase Ian McEwan, he is interested and interesting. Or at least he was. After a freak car accident while attending a conference in Berlin, Martin awakens to find his life taken over by another man (Aidan Quinn), his wife claiming not to know him and all of his identification gone.
It's a good idea for a thriller and Neeson is just the right actor for it, one of our few believable action stars who is equally good at portraying his character's inner doubt and turmoil, an asset that has never been high on the list action film priorities. In the hands of director Jaume Collet-Serra ("Orphan") he is given plenty of liberty to play up those assets as he deals with Martin's confusion and fear at what is happening to him.
At least, right up till the moment when the shadowy figures following him try to drug and kill him, at which point it turns into a more standard thriller.
After escaping from the killers Martin hides out with the beautiful cab driver (Diane Kruger) who rescued him and together with a former member of the Stasi (Bruno Ganz) to help find the proof he is who he says he. But the more they dig the more it seems he might not be that man after all.
There are some decent ideas in "Unknown" about identity and how confusingly complex it can be, best seen in the form of Jürgen, the former Stasi man who is completely unrepentant of his time in the Secret Police but is also more than willing to trust Martin and try and help him. Ganz few scenes with Neeson and Frank Langella as the one man who can prove who Marin really is are the best parts of the film, but they are few and far between and unfortunately also show up "Unknown's" biggest problem.
As much as he might wish it otherwise, Collet-Serra is trying to serve two masters—philosophical questioning about identity and adrenaline fueled action film—and ultimately only one of those is going to be the real winner. Worse, the push-me-pull-you tension of the two rather than driving the drama, sucks life from it as it seems the story comes to a stop whenever the action beats start, as if Serra were only marginally interested in that portion of the plot.
That sort of schizophrenia hangs like a pall over most of the other aspects of the film as well, particularly the performances. While Neeson is as dependable as ever and Ganz is hard to take your eyes off of, Aidan Quinn may as well have been any actor on Earth for all that he offers as Martin's sinister doppelganger. Worse than that, and an anchor the film can't get away from, is January Jones. Ostensibly the reason for everything Martin is doing, it is impossible to feel that reaction because it is impossible to get anything from Jones as an actress. She speaks her dialog as if reading it from a card and comes across as nothing so much, as in the words of a friend of mine, as "a block of wood carved in the shape of January Jones."
As action thrillers go "Unknown" is not a bad one, and it has real ambitions to character and theme that many of its ilk don't bother with. On the other hand it's not quite a good one either as the filmmakers can never quite decide what time of film they want to make.